Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53) (7 page)

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



"We're going to follow this route," Toad says, running his finger along a section of the map. "If you look here, you can see that there's a hill just past this point on the river, close to Dan Hodge's old farm, which means we'll get a good lookout as we approach town. If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to scout the entire area."

"And then what?" I ask, trying to make it sound as if I understand the plan. The truth is, I've only got a vague idea; I can't stop thinking about Rachel, and about the fact that this all seems hopeless.

"Then we'll make a more informed decision. We need to know what's going on in the world. If order's being restored, it could be months before anyone gets out to check on people living in remote areas, and I don't think we have time to wait. If there's no sign of civilization, we'll re-evaluate, maybe come back to the farm."

"What about the creatures?"

"I've been thinking about that. They were rotting, right? So even if they were animated, the rotting will have continued. It stands to reason that after a month, they've all fallen apart. I'm not counting on it just yet, but I'm pretty sure that they're out of the picture."

"But you can't be sure of that," I continue. "What if living people have been infected? We still don't know anything about how it spread, or why it infects certain people and not others."

"We just have to go on the evidence in front of us," he replies, folding up the map. "We can sit here all day and all night coming up with theories and ideas, but the best approach is just to get out there, be careful, and trust ourselves to stay smart. For all we know, there could be millions of survivors out there. This thing could be only affecting the United States." He pauses. "Or it could be everywhere, and there might only be a handful of survivors. We won't know until we get out there, so we have to get out there and start coming up with a proper plan."

"Maybe we're the last two people on Earth," I point out.

"We'll have to move fast," he continues. "Of course, it'd be a lot easier without..."

His voice trails off.

"Without Rachel?"

"I need you to take responsibility for her," he says. "I know it's not going to be easy, but out there, on the road, you need to look after her. And you also need to recognize that there's a chance she might not..." He pauses again, as if he's reluctant to say what's really on his mind. "It's a miracle that you've kept her alive this long, and I don't want you to think for a moment that I don't realize what a good job you've been doing. I just want you to remember that the circumstances are difficult, and if for any reason Rachel doesn't make it, you shouldn't go blaming yourself too much. Keeping a baby alive, raising her, in this kind of situation... It'd be difficult for someone with experience. For someone new to it all, it's a miracle."

"I didn't have you down as someone who believes in miracles," I tell him.

"What if she was dying?" he asks, changing the subject abruptly.

"Why would she be dying?"

"For any one of a million reasons. Would you be able to make the difficult decisions that would be in everyone's best interest?"

"Like what?" I ask. "Leave her behind?"

"That would be cruel. But it you had to kill her -"

"Yes," I say, even though it's a lie. "Totally."

He stares at me, clearly not convinced.

"I would," I tell him, hoping to make sure he realizes I'm tough enough to make the call. He still thinks I'm some kind of fragile kid, and there's no way I'm going to feed into that impression. Besides, I know deep down that he's right, even if I doubt I could actually abandon Rachel.

"If it would end her suffering," he continues, "and give us a better chance of survival... Could you do it? If, all things considered, it would be the kindest and most effective thing to do..."

"Are you asking me to do that now?"

He pauses, and for a moment I start to worry that I might be right. Is Toad really so hard-hearted that he'd be willing to sacrifice a child's life in order to give us a slightly better chance of survival?

"Not now," he says eventually. "I just want to know that you'll be able to make a difficult decision further down the track, if that's what has to be done."

"I'm not a child," I tell him, even though I want to tell him to go screw himself. "I know I might have had a sheltered life before all of this happened, but I think I'm adapting pretty well. I've been through stuff that you can't even imagine, so you don't have to lecture me on how to deal with things, okay? I'm not that much younger than you, and I've already made tough choices."

"What about your brother?" he asks.

I open my mouth to reply, but suddenly it feels as if a heavy stone has hit my chest.

"When you think back to what happened with your brother in New York," he continues, "are there any moments that you think you could have handled better? Are there any times when you took an easy choice, when a tougher decision might have had a different outcome?"

"Henry's death wasn't my fault," I say firmly, with tears in my eyes. "You don't know anything about what happened back there. There were other people. Bad people. We were waiting for our parents to come home, but they didn't, and we just tried to do the best thing. I guess we trusted the wrong people, and Henry let himself get manipulated."

He stares at me for a moment, as if he's trying to understand me better.

"I'm sure you did everything you could," he says eventually. "It's just that I'm heading out on the road with you, and I need to know I can trust you. Your life is in my hands, and mine is in yours, and then there's Rachel... I just needed to make sure that you've got what it takes. For what it's worth, I think you do, otherwise I'd leave you behind."


"You know what I mean."

"Well, I'm the same," I reply, sniffing back tears. "If I didn't trust you, I wouldn't go with you. Simple."

A faint smile crosses his lips.

"I'm not joking," I continue, trying not to let his amusement get to me. "I'm ready for this. I know there's a good chance that we might not survive, but it's better than sitting around here."

Over in the corner, Rachel lets out a faint gurgle. I glance at her, and to be honest I feel a hint of relief. It's the first time all day that she's done anything that seems even vaguely normal, and I can't help but hope that it's a sign of better things to come.

"Is she okay?" Toad asks.

"Of course," I reply, hurrying over and picking her up. "Why wouldn't she be?"

"She just seemed a bit..." He pauses for a moment, as if he's started to notice that something's not right with her. "She was staring at me earlier. Like, really just staring straight at me. It was kinda freaky."

"That's what babies do."

"Is it?" He shrugs, before turning and starting to close his rucksack. "I don't know the first damn thing about them, so I'll have to take your word on it. I don't want to sound like some old-fashioned asshole, but I wouldn't even know how to change her diaper. At least she doesn't cry too much. Hell, she hardly cries at all these days. It's like she suddenly stopped." Tying the top of the rucksack, he pauses for a moment, as if he's not quite sure what to do next. "I think we're ready," he says eventually, before turning to me. "I think we might as well get going."

I nod, but the truth is, I'm terrified. We've talked about the journey a lot, but now we're on the verge of setting out on a long, arduous trek toward an uncertain destination. There's a part of me that wants to stay here at the farm, no matter how foolish that would be.

"You ready?" Toad asks.

I nod.

"And Rachel?"

I look down at her and see that she's staring at me again.

"She's ready," I say cautiously, trying not to sound worried.

"Then you'd better get your shoes on," Toad continues, heading toward the door. "I know a good place for us to camp for the night, and it shouldn't be too hard to get there. I want to get past the main part of the forest before the next band of rain moves in, and I think that only gives us about twenty-four hours. We'll have to move fast, but we can do it."

I wait for him to continue.

"Well?" he says, opening the door and stepping outside before turning to me. "What are we waiting for?"



"Stink's getting worse," George says as I drive the truck slowly along the deserted street. He turns to me. "You smell it, boy? You smell that stink?"

"I smell it," I mutter, keeping my eyes on the road. We're getting closer to the heart of the city now, and although the plume of black smoke is still visible up ahead, there's no other sign of life. All around, cars seem to have just been abandoned by the side of the road, while all the buildings seem to be completely empty. I always figured there'd have been looting in the cities, but right now it looks as if no-one had
to loot. It's pretty messed-up, but I think I'd feel better if the shops had been trashed. In some weird kind of way, that would be more normal.

"Rats," George says suddenly.

I look over at a nearby intersection just in time to spot something scurrying down into the subway. I've seen rats before, back at home, but never anything so huge, and I can't help but shudder at the thought of encountering something like that. At some point, a rat might become big enough that it feels ready to take on a human.

"Did you see it?" he continues, turning to me. "That was one big-ass rat. Goddammit, I reckon he was the size of a small dog. I wouldn't like to have to deal with one of those things."

"So animals weren't affected by this thing," I reply. "Just humans."

animals," he points out. "It's almost like whatever happened, it was designed to hit us and only us. Can't say I'm surprised. We acted like we were the dominant species, but now the
dominant species has taken a right old swing at us."

"What are you talking about?" I ask, starting to get a little tired of George's roundabout way with words.

"Bugs. Bacteria. Do you know how many bacteria you've got living in the average human body? Millions, and all different types. They're the ones who are really in charge of this planet." He pauses. "Them and dolphins."

I open my mouth to ask about the dolphins, but at the last moment I decide not to bother.

"This is the revenge of bacteria," he mutters. "That's what it is. It's all our chickens coming home to roost at once."

"I don't like this," I reply, glancing over my shoulder to make sure that the road behind us is clear. Turning to look out the front, I watch the smoke for a moment. "It's probably just a random fire. It's probably rats or something, chewing through wires."

"There's no electricity. They can chew all they want, but they won't set fire to nothing."

"But it's probably not people!"

"It almost certainly
people!" He pauses, clearly exasperated. "I told you already, if you wanna turn back, that's fine. No-one's forcing you to come with me. I'll walk from here if you're scared."

I keep my foot on the pedal, and even though I'm desperate to get the hell out of here, I figure that we might as well keep going. After all, I've got nowhere else to be, and there's always a chance - no matter how faint - that we'll come across signs of a recovery. When this mess first started, more than a month ago, I kept trying to come up with some kind of plan. These days, it's more like I'm living from moment to moment, never knowing what the hell is going to come at me next.

"Stop!" George says suddenly, reaching over and grabbing the wheel.

I slam my foot on the brake pedal, and the truck comes to a lurching halt.

"Did you see it?" he asks, his voice suddenly lowered to a conspiratorial hush.

"What?" I ask, starting to feel as if I'd rather be exploring the city alone... or not at all. "Another rat?"

"Only if rats can walk upright," he replies. "Did you really not see her? She was right up by that next corner, on the right."

We sit in silence for a moment. I don't see anything, but George seems convinced, and in some strange way I feel as if the silence is getting louder all around us, until finally I can't take it any longer.

"We're getting out of here," I say, pushing him away and hitting the gas pedal as I try to turn the truck around. I've tried not to panic, but suddenly I figure that panicking might actually be a damn good idea.

"It was a normal person!" he shouts, trying to wrestle control of the wheel from me.

"Those things aren't normal!"

"I saw its face! It was a girl!"

"Then you can get out and go say hi!" I shout back at him, trying to push him away as the truck mounts the sidewalk and knocks on old trashcan out of the way. "I'm not going any further, not if there are things walking about!"

"It was a girl!" he says again. "As soon as she saw us, she turned and ran, but she was normal! I saw the whites of her goddamn eyes!"

"It was probably one of those -" I start to shout, but at the last moment George grabs the wheel and the truck lurches to the right. I've still got my foot on the gas pedal, and I don't have time to react before the front of the truck crashes into the window of a shop. As glass shatters, the truck finally comes to a stop, with the front section part-way inside the building. We've crashed into the front of a clothes shop, and although the interior is dark and unlit, I can make out rows and rows of expensive-looking dresses. It's a surreal moment, and for a few seconds I can barely even process what I'm seeing.

"What did you do that for?" George asks finally.

"Me?" I try to reverse, but we're stuck and all that happens is that the wheels spin. Somehow, the front of the truck seems to have become caught on part of the window, but I'm damn well not going to get out and try to push, not if there's a chance of those creatures being around. I can feel them already, watching and waiting, probably hoping that we'll make it easy for them. They're probably slipping closer with every passing second.

"I told you to stop," George continues. "I said, just stop and we'll take a look, but you're the one who's in the driver's seat. There was no need to go and crash into the front of a building. You're the one who -"

"Shut up!" I shout, flooring the pedal in an attempt to get the truck free. The whole frame of the vehicle is shuddering, but whatever's caught on the underside, it's stubbornly refusing to come loose. The engine's revving so loud, I'm worried it might get flooded, but at the same time I can't find a way to calm down. We have to get out of here before those creatures arrive.

"Thomas -"

"Shut up!" I shout again.

"If you're gonna be like that," he replies, "I think I should just get out and walk! You're acting like a fool."

"Fine," I mutter, changing gear in an increasingly desperate attempt to get the truck to reverse out of the broken shop window. "I don't care about smoke or people in cities or anything like that! I just want to -" Suddenly I spot something in the rearview mirror, and I turn to see several people wandering toward us. They look lost, almost as if they're mindlessly drawn to come closer. One of them, who has almost reached the truck, looks to be a young girl around my age, and she's staring at me with a haunted expression.

"Hang on," George says, reaching out to open the door. "We can ask them if -"

"Don't open that!" I shout. "I've seen these things before! They'll kill us!" At that moment, the truck finally comes loose from whatever was holding it in place, and we reverse across the sidewalk. One of the creatures, apparently unable to react in time, is hit by the back of the truck and falls under the wheels, and the entire vehicle shudders and jolts as first the rear and then the front wheels drive straight over the corpse. As I try to turn the truck, I see a thick red trail on the sidewalk with pieces of bone and skin mashed into the mess, but I don't have time to take it in yet. Instead, I turn the wheel, still functioning on pure adrenalin. There's no goddamn way I'm going to let these things get me.

"Thomas -" George starts to say.

"Shut up!"

"Thomas -"

I turn to shout at him, but suddenly the door next to me is pulled open and someone reaches into the truck, grabbing me by the shoulders and hauling me out until I fall onto the sidewalk. Before I can get to my feet, I feel several more sets of hands grab hold of me and start dragging me away, and although I struggle to get free, I'm quickly pinned down against the ground. Figures are leaning over me, partially blocking the sunlight as they stare down, and I'm convinced that at any moment I'll feel them start to rip me apart. Even though I'm trying to fight back, there's a part of me that knows I'm outnumbered. This is it.

"What's your name?" a male voice asks suddenly, as one of the figures leans closer to me.

"Go to hell!" I shout. "Get -"

Suddenly something strikes me on the side of the face, with enough force to almost knock me out.

"What's your name?" the voice asks again, leaning closer this time. "And give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right here and now!"

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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